The Surprising Genius of Sewing Machines

The Surprising Genius of Sewing Machines

Sewing machines are mechanical marvels – here’s how they work. Get your first month of KiwiCo FREE at
A huge thanks to Prof. Andy Ruina for suggesting this video topic, guiding us in the research, and giving deeply insightful notes.

Massive thanks to Noah Johnson and Tina Vines for teaching Derek how to chain-stitch, and letting us shoot with your embroidery machine! Please check out stitchrite and tina_vines on instagram if you’re interested in seeing more of their gorgeous chain stitch embroidery.

Thanks to Denny Stanley and the whole crew at Las Vegas Props for building the large replica model of the sewing machine.

Parton, J. (1870). History of the Sewing-machine. Howe Machine Company, No. 38, N. Charles St.. —

Gregory, J. M. (2006). A History of the Sewing Machine to 1880. Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 76(1), 127-144. —

How America Spends Money: 100 Years In the Life of the Family Budget, The Atlantic —

Buckman, J. (2016). Unraveling the Threads: The Life, Death and Resurrection of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, America’s First Multi-National Corporation. Dog Ear Publishing.

Lewton, F. L. (1930). The servant in the house: a brief history of the sewing machine (Vol. 3056). US Government Printing Office. —

Special thanks to our Patreon supporters:
Adam Foreman, Anton Ragin, Balkrishna Heroor, Bernard McGee, Bill Linder, Burt Humburg, Chris Harper, Dave Kircher, Diffbot, Evgeny Skvortsov, Gnare, John H. Austin, Jr., john kiehl, Josh Hibschman, Juan Benet, KeyWestr, Lee Redden, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Max Paladino, Meekay, meg noah, Michael Krugman, Orlando Bassotto, Paul Peijzel, Richard Sundvall, Sam Lutfi, Stephen Wilcox, Tj Steyn, TTST, Ubiquity Ventures

Directed by Petr Lebedev
Written by Petr Lebedev, Derek Muller, Felicity Nelson
Edited by Trenton Oliver
Animated by Mike Radjabov, Fabio Albertelli and Jakub Misiek
Filmed by Derek Muller, Raquel Nuno, Gene Nagata and Taylor Cody
Aditional Research by Gregor Čavlović
Produced by Petr Lebedev, Han Evans, and Derek Muller
Additional video/photos supplied by Getty Images and Storyblocks
Music from Epidemic Sound

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23 Responses

  1. Shangerdanger says:

    another awesome video. my dad and brother are engineers and my mom is a seamstress, so it was cool to see a video that everyone in my family could enjoy!

  2. Doug says:

    I use my sewing machine often to reinforce stitches when they start to come loose on my clothes, I hand stitch buttons back on, to mend clothes and dog toys and have made clothes from scratch. I had a reasonably good idea how the machine worked, but it was great to see it on a large scale to really appreciate how precisely the machine has to run to catch the loop on the underside. Gave me an even greater appreciation for the engineering that went into a sewing machine.

    • prasun says:

      I have seen cobblers stitching like this. They have a needle that kinda looks like a screwdriver🪛

    • Gaston Lagaffe says:

      Same, it’s an amazing device. I like that you point out that you still hand stitch certain things. I too have learned that sometimes hand stitching is the better way. Button-holing? For sure I use the machine, but for a button here or there, hand stitching all the way. There is a certain amount of thread wasted every time you start and stop a stitch with the machine, so it’s a judgment call for sure.

  3. Sofia says:

    I’m an engineer in physics, and during the pandemic I learned to sew my own clothes as a hobby, and ever since I’ve been fascinated by the inner workings of sewing machines! So this video was an awesome overlap for me 😄 When you talk about the mindblowing amount of clothes that end up in landfill, I wish you had mentioned that this is the awful impact of the fast fashion industry. The invention of sewing machines are not to blame, the problem is the overall mentality of consumerism nowadays.

  4. dunkrev says:

    I’ve often wondered how sewing machines actually work. Thank you for jet another awesome video with brilliant animations and models. All your content has really high value!

  5. Dominique Michaud says:

    This is an awesome demonstration! I love the mechanical aspect of fabric creation. The weaving loom is also a nice piece of machinery, especially the draw loom. But for me, the most amazing mechanism is the knitting machine (with punch cards, no less!). It’s just so complex, and it uses the steel “memory” of the needles to make lace. It’s quite clever.

  6. SeanT Lewis says:

    This is fascinating. I enjoy sewing, and loved watching this history. In the early days of the pandemic lockdown, I hand-stitched cloth masks for my roommates and other friends. My roommates bought me a new sewing machine as a birthday gift that year. I nearly cried.

  7. Thomas Shelley says:

    Puzzled me for years and never bothered to look – amazing that they invented these things!

  8. Giorgi Gzirishvili says:

    Sewing machines always intrigued me. I learned about the mechanism couple years ago, and I looked at different designs. But only today I’ve learnt that early sewing machines used just a single thread. Brilliant video!

  9. spurezurko says:

    My grandmother was a seamstress and some of my first memories form 0-5 yrs old are from her workshop, when she was babysitting me… I remember playing with wool, the fabric etc. and the machines and the intricate designs of them… Her workshop was like some kind of Narnia for me… Most people don’t know how genious the mechanics of it really are

  10. Japheth Stauffer says:

    I’ve been fixing sewing machines for 26 years and still at it.❤. It’s great to see this demonstrated in a way that I can show my customers why their needle or timing is so important! Thank you!

    • Jehanne Hardwick says:

      YES. The tension is so important. And sharp needles. Also, the correct needle for the fabric. The type of thread matters, too.
      I have been sewing since I was seven years old. I learnt on a Singer treadle machine ( my nan’s). It is still working. I have thought a lot about how the sewing machine works.This very informative video has explained it so clearly.

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